Now is the best time to pursue a career in computer science and information technology. From 1997 to 2012, the number of technology jobs in the United States almost doubled, rising from a little over 2 million to nearly 4 million. Even better, IT jobs are expected to grow 12 percent through 2024.
Surveys suggest as many as 30 percent of IT companies plan to hire entry-level computer support jobs over the next year. This extremely attractive entry-level IT position comes with relative security and a potential starting wage around $30,000, with a potential average wage of around $60,180 when you have more experience.
However, getting into this field can pose a challenge for many, especially those with no previous experience in the IT world. Many companies balk at the prospect of hiring someone without so much as a summer internship in the field, even for IT jobs with no experience required. Additionally, the abundance of individuals trained or experienced in computer science can pose steep competition to anyone trying to find a foothold in the industry. It may feel like an uphill battle, but we promise it is possible to get the career of your dreams.
With some effort and persistence, you, too, can find a career in the growing world of computer science with the six following tips and tricks.
1. Learn as Much as Possible
One of the biggest problems facing IT job applicants is a lack of proper education. Many pursue IT jobs straight out of high school, not realizing that most organizations require all employees to possess a college degree of some sort. Others require certain certifications before you can even apply.
Before you pursue a career in IT, it might be a good idea to cover all of your bases, including the following:
- Degree: You don’t necessarily need a degree in computer science to be an IT professional, but you need a degree of some sort. Whether it is a degree or a Diploma, most companies require even entry-level employees to have some sort of college education, such as an Associate Degree in Information Technology.
- Certifications: You can get a leg up over the competition by pursuing extra certifications in IT. These credentials help differentiate you from the crowd and prove you have the drive and motivation to get the job done. These certifications are especially necessary if you are looking to get into specialized fields or contract with the U.S. federal government, as you need special certifications before they’ll even consider you for the job.
- Extra classes: Always take the extra step and look for new skills to learn. Whether it is a hard skill like coding or soft skill like business communication, any extra training you have will show your initiative and dedication to advancement.
A thorough education can help make up for any deficiencies in experience, and taking these classes can help you meet people in the industry, building your network and pool of potential employers.
2. Work on Your Soft Skills
Even if you have never worked an IT job in your life, you have likely worked in another position. Regardless of whether you worked as a server or a stocker, a cashier or a gardener, you likely developed some basic soft skills. Soft skills, or transferrable skills that are not industry-specific, can help tremendously if you have no experience in the IT field but have plenty of experience in another industry.
Instead of focusing on your lack of IT experience, shift your focus to your soft skills. Some of the most important soft skills for the IT industry include the following.
Strong communication skills are the cornerstone of any successful IT career. Regardless of the complexity or scope of your position, you should be able to take very complex ideas and explain them in simple terms without sounding condescending or confusing. This skill is one many IT professionals lack, and yet it is key to anyone’s success in the IT industry. You can develop and practice this skill by simply participating during group discussions or even taking a business communication class.
Closely related to communication skills, presenting skills are also extremely important in the IT industry. Whether you are running a group training session or explaining your findings to upper management, your ability to put together and present an effective presentation will likely be tested at one point or another during your IT career.
Presenting involves a number of smaller skills, such as public speaking, PowerPoint design and speechwriting, all of which are relatively easy to learn with some time and practice. If you are looking for a more formal instruction in presentation skills, many online schools offer public speaking and presentation classes.
Successful teams make for successful businesses, which is why teamwork is such a crucial part of IT. Many IT professionals are highly individualistic and prefer to work alone, and although some IT positions require some amount of independence, completely independent entry-level positions are rare. Even if it is in a small capacity, you’ll likely be part of a team of IT professionals, working in tandem to reach your goals.
To be effective in this position, you need to be able to put aside pride and personal differences to work effectively as part of a team. Again, this is a difficult skill to master — try practicing it by getting involved in group activities or team-building exercises.
The ability to solve novel problems in an efficient and cost-effective way is one of the hallmarks of a truly great IT professional. It also happens to be one of the more difficult skills to develop. Practice this skill by studying more uncommon IT problems, solutions, and workarounds, or by participating in forums.
Everyone is familiar with the unfair stereotype of the rude IT support specialist. This is why it is so crucial for companies to find positive specialists who are ready and willing to help their peers and customers. If you master positivity as a soft skill, you will definitely stand out in the crowd. Try to practice positivity in your daily life to help build this skill.
As you prepare to apply for IT positions, always consider how you can improve on these basic soft skills and consider any other soft skills that might set you apart within the industry.
3. Network Effectively
Getting any job involves reaching out and connecting with people. This is especially true for a high-competition industry like IT. However, connecting with new people is easier than ever with social media, online forums and other electronic resources.
Some basic ways to increase your networking pool include:
- Building a LinkedIn Presence: LinkedIn is becoming one of the most widely used resources for identifying potential new employees. Across all industries, 93 percent of hiring managers report using LinkedIn as a primary resource for finding potential recruits, closely followed by Facebook. Be sure to flesh out your LinkedIn profile completely with your detailed work history, your certifications and any other applicable information about yourself.
Connect with your friends, family, coworkers, and old employers, and watch as your network grows. LinkedIn also identifies jobs fitting your experience or interests, and you can upload your resume to send to potential employers.
- Joining User Groups: If you are interested in particular areas of IT, such as SQL servers or open-source development, join a local user group focused on that topic. This will help you meet people working in the industry and expose you to new connections and opportunities you may not have discovered before. All you need to do is run a quick Google search to get started.
- Getting Your Name Out: Never be afraid to get your name out there. Call or email potential employers, reach out to decision-makers at organizations you dream of working with. Worst-case scenario, you are ignored, but there is also a chance you might find yourself chatting with a local IT mogul.
You never know when you are going to get your big break or whom it is going to come from, so avoid burning bridges and try to build up your network at every opportunity during your job search. You may get results from the unlikeliest of places.
4. Perfect Your Resume
With any job hunt, you need a well-tailored resume. This is especially true if you are pursuing a job in IT, as you will likely be putting quite a few resumes out there. However, when you have no experience in IT, your resume might look a little too sparse. To make your resume stand out despite your lack of experience, be sure to make it shine in all other respects by doing the following:
- Keep It Simple: You are not applying for a design job. Keep your resume simple, clean, and easy to read. Simultaneously, your resume should not be thrown together haphazardly. Look at resume templates for something simple, conservative and clear. Your name and contact information should be front and center, and your most pertinent experience and education should be easy to spot. The last thing you want is for a potential employer to throw away your resume because they could not read it.
- Showcase Your Skills: Soft skills, or transferrable skills that aren’t necessarily industry-specific, are just as important as any certification. The soft skills we listed previously are just a few examples of the soft skills to focus on in your resume, but don’t be afraid to include others, such as the ability to work under pressure or excellent attention to detail.
- Highlight Your Certifications: Be sure to include as many pertinent certifications as possible. These should be easy to find, probably right below your formal education. Because these certifications are so crucial to getting an advantage over your competition, it is important that your potential employer see these before your work experience.
5. Nail Your Interview
While networking and a good resume can often get you in the door, what happens once you have an opportunity depends on you. Although most employers say they’ve usually made a decision on a potential employee before they get to the interview table, you can turn the tables in your favor by keeping a few things in mind before, during, and after your interview:
- Be Professional: As with any job interview, you want to come off as professional as possible. Your appearance during an interview should be clean and appropriate for the business to which you are applying. Additionally, you should keep your attitude and manners in mind before, during and after the interview.
Show up early, keep your interview personable and polite, and always remember a thank-you note or email after your interview. Simple manners and professionalism are hard to come by these days, especially in IT, so taking a few extra steps can really pay off.
- Avoid Anything Too Personal: Avoid oversharing at all costs. Companies do not need to know your life story. Additionally, try to make your online presence as private as possible. Re-check your privacy settings on your Facebook and Twitter feeds to make sure those photos from last year’s New Year’s party are kept under wraps. The last thing you want is for a company to look at your Facebook presence and change its mind about you because of something you posted on your profile.
- Prepare: Learn about the company. It seems simple, but it is a step many people take for granted. Learn what the company does and what you would likely be doing as an employee there. Learn about opportunities and come prepared with questions about the business’s direction, opportunities for advancement, and other business-specific topics. This extra care to research and learn about the job you are applying for can really help sell you as an employee.
- Show Initiative: Initiative is an essential quality for IT support staff and is an important thing to showcase to a company. By having a resume full of certifications and classes and asking plenty of questions during your interview, you can convey to the company your initiative through your actions. However, there are other ways to use your initiative too. If you do not get the job you are hoping for, ask questions as to why. Not only will you leave the company with a good sense of your initiative and drive, leaving doors open down the road, but also it will help you get a better sense of what companies are looking for in the position you desire.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Volunteer
During your job hunt, and even after you get a job, it doesn’t hurt to volunteer your time for some side experience. Look for internship or volunteer opportunities with local colleges, businesses, and nonprofit organizations, even if they are only a few hours a week. While this will not earn you money, it will earn you a little bit of experience, lending you an advantage over other fresh faces to the industry. You will also get a sense of satisfaction knowing your skills are being put to good use while you are on the hunt.